As a golden dawn breaks, a Red Deer stag emerges from the mist and shadows of great Oak trees to face another day’s challenges of the Rut.
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Having not been able to make it to Shetland over the last two years thanks to Covid, I can't wait to get back there next summer to hopefully spend more time with these guys...
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Dartford Warbler - Sylvia Undata
The Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata) iDs a typical warbler from the warmer parts of western Europe and northwestern Africa. It is a small warbler with a long thin tail and a thin pointed bill. The adult male has grey-brown upperparts and is dull reddish-brown below except for the centre of the belly which has a dirty white patch. It has light speckles on the throat and a red eye-ring. The sexes are similar but the adult female is usually less grey above and paler below.
Its breeding range lies west of a line from southern England to the heel of Italy (southern Apulia). The Dartford warbler is usually resident all year in its breeding range, but there is some limited migration.
The Dartford warbler was first described by the Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant from two specimens that were shot in April 1773 on Bexley Heath near Dartford in Kent.
The species is naturally rare. The largest European populations of Sylvia undata are in the Iberian peninsula, others in much of France, in Italy and southern England and south Wales. In Africa it can be found only in small areas in the north, wintering in northern Morocco and northern Algeria.
In southern England the birds breed on heathlands, sometimes near the coast, and nest in either common gorse (Ulex europaeus) or common heather (Calluna
Dartford warblers are named for Dartford Heath in north west Kent, where the population became extinct in the early twentieth century. They almost died out in the United Kingdom in the severe winter of 1962/1963 when the national population dropped to just ten pairs. Sylvia undata is also sensitive to drought affecting breeding success or producing heath fires, as occurred during 1975 and 1976 in England when virtually all juveniles failed to survive their first year.
However, this species can recover well in good quality habitat with favourable temperatures and rainfall, thanks to repeated nesting and a high survival rate for the young. Indeed, they recovered in some areas of the UK, but numbers are once again on the decline in other regions of their natural range.
The range of the Dartford warbler is restricted to western and southern Europe. The total population in 2012 was estimated at 1.1–2.5 million breeding pairs. The largest numbers occur in Spain where there were believed to be 983,000–1,750,000 pairs. For reasons that probably include loss of suitable habitat, the Spanish population appears to be declining. The species is therefore classed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being Near threatened.
A period of climatic warming since 1963 has seen the UK population increase to "more than 2,500 pairs in 2006 (Wotton et al. 2009). Expansion into patches of structurally suitable habitat (up to an altitude of 400m), more northerly areas and away from the core of the range, from Dorset and Hampshire to Derbyshire and Suffolk, is likely to have been facilitated by milder winter weather (Wotton et al. 2009, Bradbury et al. 2011)... The Dartford warbler population in the UK is expected to continue to increase. However, future climate-based projections for the European range indicate that by 2080, more than 60% of the current European range may no longer be suitable (Huntley et al 2007). There is evidence that this is happening already, with severe declines in Spain and France (Green 2017). For this reason, the species is classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Global Red List. If the declines in southern Europe continue, the UK will become increasingly important for global conservation of this species".
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